In an election year in which crime is a top issue for voters, the history of how job openings for eight new sheriff’s deputies came into existence in Bucks County continues to simmer in the race for the county board of commissioners — a race Politico recently said “could tell us a lot about who will win the presidential election in 2024.”
A post on the social media platform X from the account @MarsegliaHarvie2023, representing the ticket for the two incumbent Democrats, Diane Marseglia and Bob Harvie, provides all the evidence that the issue remains a sensitive one as November continues to creep forward.
After a brief mention about school resource officers, the post said the two commissioners “provided $1 million in additional funding for law enforcement countywide. We will always keep Bucks County safe & politics will never get in the way.” — an apparent reference to the funding of the new deputy sheriffs.
In the video that accompanies the post, Marseglia is seen at a recent meeting of the county commissioners saying, “We are the salary board,” while motioning to the other commissioners on the dais. She then goes on to say, “Salary board did make a recommendation back in November for sheriff deputies, and Commissioner Harvie spent the time during the budget to find $1 million out of the judge’s budget that they weren’t using and transfer it over to the sheriff[.]”
While it is technically true that the salary board made a recommendation for the eight new sheriff’s deputies, Marseglia leaves out of her story the fact that she and Harvie voted against the new positions, but were defeated by a three-person Republican coalition of the county treasurer Pam Van Blunk, Commissioner Gene DiGioralamo, and Sheriff Fred Harran, who had a vote with the salary board only on this particular issue because the salary request involved his office.
However, Sheriff Fred Harran, a Republican, says the money for the new deputies wasn’t made available until July, and claims the whole issue had to be nudged along.
“So the salary board is not just the two of them or the three commissioners, it’s made up of the controller and myself as well. So just the statement that we are the salary board, that’s not true. They’re part of the board. Second thing is, that money did not become available until they got calls from the media.”
Harran is referencing an inquiry by Broad + Liberty on July 18.
At that point, Harran was still claiming that the money wasn’t in the appropriate accounts for him to get rolling with hiring the new deputies.
Hours after the Broad + Liberty email requesting comment, Harran said the money finally appeared. With Harran saying the funding was in place, Broad + Liberty dropped the story.
County officials deny this account of events.
“This claim that media inquiries months later somehow shook this money loose is wholly inaccurate, is not how County government works and would seem to be an attempt to play politics,” said Bucks County spokesman James O’Malley.
O’Malley also pointed to the previous statement made in July.
“The Commissioners have approved and fully funded every position requested by Sheriff Harran. As has been explained to the Sheriff, once the open positions in his office are filled, additional funds will be transferred to the department if and when necessary. As a technical matter, funding transfers are budget-dependent,” said Chief Operating Officer Margie McKevitt. “For example, no transfer of funds is currently needed because the Sheriff’s office is under budget at this point due to staffing issues.”
“From approving $1 million to fund the addition of eight new Sheriff’s deputies to putting multiple co-responders on the streets to assist local police departments, these Commissioners, in unanimous bipartisan votes, have always supported law enforcement,” McKevitt concluded.
Harran is unconvinced.
“They’re going around saying they put a million dollars towards law enforcement. No, they didn’t. We got money from the courts,” Harran began. “Otherwise, I’d have been, probably would’ve had a coin toss on the street trying to raise money or I would’ve gotten the money somewhere. But it’s not their priority as far as I’m concerned. And I’m not saying this as a Republican versus a Democrat. I’m saying that as someone who’s been in law enforcement.”
A Broad + Liberty analysis of crime data for the county shows the total number of “type one” offenses has climbed eight percent when comparing the full calendar year of 2018 to 2022. Type one offenses include the most serious offenses, such as violent crimes like murder and rape, as well as property crimes like theft, auto theft, and others.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports